Our house is insulated with newspapers.

This is what the insulation in the walls of our new house looks like:

Insulation Detail

It’s euphemistically referred to as “blown cellulose,” but it’s really just shredded newspaper. If we look closely, we can read some words on it. The amount of newspaper used to insulate our house is as much as we’d go through in twenty years. (If, y’know, we read printed newspapers.) It’s a great insulator, but it uses a stunningly small amount of energy to create, when compared to fiberglass and other forms of insulation commonly used in contemporary houses. It’s sprayed with borate, so insects don’t want it, it’s fireproof, and it won’t mold. (Because it’s packed more tightly, preventing the flow of air within walls, it’s actually more fire resistant than fiberglass.) For you energy geeks out there, it’s an R value of 4.0, compared to fiberglass batts’ 3.2.

It’s a small thing, but it’s one of dozens of such touches that I really like about our new house. The drywall went up this week so, with any luck, we’ll never see our newspaper insulation again.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

15 replies on “Our house is insulated with newspapers.”

  1. I’m getting a “photo currently unavailable” on my end.

    I hope to be able to view your insulation.

  2. I’m getting a “photo currently unavailable” on my end.

    D’oh! I’m so glad you mentioned that. It turns out that Flickr—where I host my photos—generates different URLs for private viewing and for public viewing. I’d used the private URL, which worked great for me, since I’m logged into Flickr, but did nothing for anybody else. :)

    Have you wired the house with cat5 or any other high tech stuff- or just gone wireless?

    We were just going to go wireless, but it just wasn’t real expensive for the electrician to pull data cable while he was pulling power cable, so we added in ethernet. And the fact that 802.11n is good enough for the sort of data that we tend to run over our home network now doesn’t mean that it’ll be up to snuff in a few years. Though I wanted to get cat 6, that was pretty pricey, and it would require getting new networking hardware, so I just went with cat 5e.

    Incidentally, we also had him run coaxial cable. Why? I have no idea. :)

  3. Well..I enjoyed the newspaper insulation then the rest of your fine photography also.

    The wall wiring is cheap to do now even if it may not get used later and a awful and expensive retrofit later.

    You’re in the woods though.. how are you going to bring the internet there?

    Also. are you NORTH of C’ville near the “spook” place?

  4. We actually already live on the land, in a small house. It’s in northeast Albemarle, in Stony Point. We’re pretty close to a DSLAM (not coincidentally—I wouldn’t live here otherwise!), so we have DSL.

  5. well I KNEW you would not be in a home “off the net” even if it was “off the grid”…

    so … how did you know WHERE the internet infrastructure was – and was not?

  6. how did you know WHERE the internet infrastructure was – and was not?

    My wife was born and raised in Stony Point, so I already knew that Sprint offered service here. I didn’t have a map of DSLAMs that I drew cirules around at the 16,000 foot point or anything. :)

    What’s the price comparison between this substance and fiberglass?

    I don’t actually know, Kevin—we never even considered fiberglass. This UMass publication says:

    Comparing prices of competing insulation systems is difficult. Costs vary from location to location and even between applicators in any given area. As a rule, cellulose installations are competitively priced with fiberglass and much less expensive than foamed-in-place applications.

    Whether or not that’s true, I’ve got no idea.

  7. Have you tried taking some of the stuff and trying to light in on fire? I’d do it just out of curiosity.

    I had some buddies who rented an old house (built in the 1930’s) in a college town. They had an electrical issue and a repairmen had to come out and take down and entire plaster wall. Found a bunch of leaves in a portion and thought a squirrel made a nest in the wall at one point. As they took down more of the wall they found newspaper packed in portions. Turns out the builders and/or original homeowners used leaves and newspaper as insulation in all the walls. How’s that for a fire hazard? Entire house had to be renovated and brought up to code.

  8. “We were just going to go wireless, but it just wasn’t real expensive for the electrician to pull data cable while he was pulling power cable, so we added in ethernet.”

    Really? Are you sure he did it right? Running CAT5 and electrical wiring should actually be twice as much work as running only electrical wiring because you should avoid running them parallel to one another as much as possible, and you should never bundle them together. The magnetic field generated by electrical conduction in your copper wiring causes interference with data transmission in CAT5 cable.

    Which I’m sure you’re aware of, but I’ve met a few electricians in my life who are good about understanding current but forget about/don’t understand magnetism.

  9. What will you insulate with once you bloggers kill the dead-tree media? BTW, a lot of houses on Churchhill in Richmond, built around the turn of the last century, are insulated with newspaper, to the extent that they are insulated at all.

  10. I have found that cellulose insulation is quieter than fiberglass. I’ve used it on an interior wall where you don’t normally insulate just to soften the noise between them. I can’t imagine that it could be “fireproof”.

  11. While we were building our house, I took blowtorch to a leftover pile of the cellulose insulation we had blown in the ceiling and could not get it to burn. Quite amazing stuff.

Comments are closed.